“The Bubble Show” (Assembly George Square Gardens 10:40, AUG 15-26 : 10:40 : 60mins)

“Bubbleland is a real place, according to Mr Bubbles, a real place peopled by bubbles.”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Nae Bad

There are two certain ways to get kids to disengage from whatever they are doing and excitedly focus on the novelty. The first is to enter the room and announce in a loud, clear voice, “Go Jetters to your stations.” Alternatively, one can enter singing “Go! Go! Go! Octonauts!” The outrage is real. The conclusion that you are the kind of halfwit who can’t even be trusted not to mix up the words to songs, is immediately, irreversibly drawn. The second method to get kids to stop whatever they are doing is more universal and has been since Cain, Abel and Seth were in pull-ups: bubbles.

Dr Johnson famously remarked that “when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.” Less well known are the words that followed, “and if he be tired of bubbles why is a coxcomb knave whose very soul is decayed, possibly beyond remedy save only by the immediate and direct intercession of his personal redeemer.” Bubbles, in short, are brill.

Mr Bubbles enters to a crowd of all ages. Daughter 1.0, aged 4, is somewhere in the upper, lower middle of the range. The staging is simple. Only the set necessary to facilitate the magic that is to come. Mr Bubbles tells his life story. Born. falls in love with bubbles. Made to join the army. Gets out of army. Back to bubbles.

And what bubbles they are. BIG bubbles. Small bubbles. Fire bubbles (really). Helium bubbles. Steam-powered bubbles. Frothy bubbles. Smokey bubbles. Bubbles inside other bubbles. Treasures and artefacts brought (Parthenon Marbles style) back by Mr Bubbles from his journey to Bubbleland. Bubbleland is a real place, according to Mr Bubbles, a real place peopled by bubbles.

Mr Bubbles, is of a similar size and build to Justin Fletcher – although his army days have kept him somewhat trimmer, as Granny is quick to point out. He is young and his show feels like it will ripen with age. The truly high notes are yet to come. But the globetrotting graft that has gone in, makes for a flawless performance. He is not one of those hyperactive performers who think it their business to rile the kiddies up into a state of frenzy. His connection is personal and personable. The kids who join him on stage are confident and happy (although he could make more effort to select kids from further back).

The show is in two distinct halves. There’s the lively, jolly, a bit sciencey first half. Then there’s the sensory light and sound second half. The latter is when the very young ones fully engage. The whisps of squally discontentment lift life a helium bubble on its way to meet the houselights. Daughter 2.0 (19 months) would have loved the second half, although I think I would have had a job to keep her settled through the first. 

This is not a show that will blow your mind, but it’s gentle humour and obvious passion will lift your spirits. Daughter 1.0 leaves with a spring in her step and her face. Mr Bubbles (B.Ed.) has entrusted her and all the rest with the secret knowledge that life is better with bubbles. That was good sharing Mr Bubbles. Good sharing.

nae bad_blue

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Dan Lentell (Seen 12 August)

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THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

“Clive Anderson: Me, Macbeth and I” (Assembly George Square Studios, AUG 13-25 : 21:30 : 60mins)

“If Prime Minister* Ken Clarke’s Hushpuppies were an EdFringe act, this might be it. Stylish, comfortable, unthreatening, finely-crafted, and ex-barristery.”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars: Outstanding

“So who is Clive Anderson?” my companion drawls Mid-Westernly. “He’s a pretty big deal,” I reply. “Ex-Footlights. Ex-Barrister. He interviewed Gorbachev. Not exactly a national-treasure, but definitely a favourite national tea-mug that’s been in use down the ages.” My companion looks blank and I recall the look on the guard’s face at the National Portrait Gallery when she asked him, “Sir, where are the famous people?”

My own personal favourite tea mug had been purchased from the EUSA shop, not a stone’s throw from where we stood behind a long queue of expectant punters. Said mug, which advertised that the Guardian newspaper could be purchased by students for 20p, saw service in both the undergrad and postgrad campaigns, toured the provinces during the lean years, and saw service in every rented cupboard and shabby (but not chic) dresser, right up to the forever house, with it’s surprisingly grabby preschoolers and less surprisingly unbouncy kitchen floor tiles. It’s currently helping to drain the soil for a scented geranium. It’s fair to say that my cherished mug has seen better days.

So what of the nation’s favourite tea mug, Clive Anderson? In what state will we find him? Faded? Chipped? Bitter from some sod putting making instant coffee in him and not washing him out properly?

The former chat show host and chair of Whose Line is it Anyway? arrives on stage dressed like what Henry Irving thought Macbeth dressed like. Pause for breath and… vroom! he’s off with the same stately, but dynamic energy as one of those Bentley motorcars he tongue-in-cheekedly plugged in a Christmas episode of HIGNFY. A lifetime on the after-dinner circuit and he’s cornering with precision, racing down the straights with material that is well-worn without being tired, homely without being plain. If Prime Minister* Ken Clarke’s Hushpuppies were an EdFringe act, this might be it. Stylish, comfortable, unthreatening, finely-crafted, and ex-barristery.

*apologies I watched the next episode from the Brexit box set while you were out.

Anderson opens with a learned essay on his favourite Shakespeare play, Macbeth. Not super researched, the historical Macbeth went to Rome and not the Holy Land, but sufficiently well remembered to open onto a scenic landscape of showbiz reminiscences and anecdotes. It is a very pleasant hour and we all leave pleasantly pleased… with one exception.

“This is just like that time you took me to see that Gyles Brandreth dude!” complains my companion. “This guy was good, and I get that he’s a big deal on your side of the pond, but did no one remind him that the people sitting stage right also paid for their seats?” Her case for the prosecution presents a litany of minor (and not so minor) staging errors, her criticism of Anderson’s admittedly frantic pacing is crushing, and her insinuation that the fowl specimen of wretched humanity in the dock has been driving without due care and attention of his director may stick in the jury room.

This is not objectively a *5 show from her technical perspective. Subjectively, however, if you are in the market for a Clive Anderson product this EdFringe, this is an excellent vintage. If Jack Pomeroy were selling it in his wine bar, it would deliver considerably more than his regular Chateau Thames Embankment. Chateau Clive Anderson has many finer seasons in store and I can’t wait to try them.

outstanding

StarStarStar

Reviewer: Dan Lentell (Seen 11 August)

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THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

Edward Aczel: Artificial Intellect (Heroes @ Boteco, Aug 10-12, 14-25, 13:20: 1hr)

“A damn good time.”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Nae Bad

If you’ve ever played Pac-Man, you’ll know that when you reach one extreme end of the maze, you come out the opposite side. I like that fact. It’s a useful metaphor for when something goes so far in one direction, it reverts back to its opposite starting point again. Jeff Goldblum is a good example of the Pac-Man effect: an actor who started out sexy, got weirder and weirder as time went on, then became so weird that he swung all the way back to sexy again.

Deadpan “anti-comedy” is very much the same thing. There is something so unspeakably absurd about good deadpan. When it’s done well, it’s the mark of a performer who understands mirth so well, they can appear utterly mirthless; or when the structure of a good joke is grasped well enough that it can be made to look like a bad joke. In that regard, Edward Aczel demonstrates the Pac-Man effect in spades.

There are many things to love about Artificial Intellect. If the high-energy atmosphere of Fringe is proving too much, Aczel may as well be a shot of Vicodin straight to the neck. Even audience participation seemed completely without pressure, because as Aczel reminds the crowd early and often: it doesn’t matter. There’s an almost calming nihilism to the whole prospect – Aczel appears as a man who is so given over to the dull reality of things, he’s like a Greggs-themed Siddhartha.

Aczel himself is compelling as a stage personality. His persona is somewhere between drunk librarian and divorced uncle, a combination which proves not only pleasing to watch, but unexpectedly charismatic. He when not leaning joylessly against the mic stand, he lazily floats around the stage like a stay dandelion seed, completely directionless inside and out. Better still, though, are brief moments in which he breaks character to laugh at an unexpected answer, and becomes the picture of mirth. There is something very rewarding about watching a performer whose love of their profession shines through, and even moreso if they can express it mostly through shrugging and talking about Dulux.

And the jokes – the jokes! Hard to talk about, even harder to pin down. Aczel is the Winchester Mystery House of comedy performers: there’s no telling whether you’re going to get a punchline or just fall off the face of the earth, and into another joke somewhere else. Deadpan comedy is a test of delivery and timing over pure content, and Aczel has it down to a tee. no hanging punchline ends with yearning or disappointment, because hey – nothing matters.

The usual defects with this species of set also apply here, though small in number: the laid back nature of audience participation meant that in certain sequences, Aczel almost got stuck into an infinite loop with unwitting members of the public, or jokes would trail ever so slightly over the line of outstaying their welcome. Though these moments of slowdown were easily accommodated into tone of the performance, but were nevertheless noticeable.

Artificial Intellect (which, at this late stage in the review, I must point out has literally nothing to do with AI or computers) is exactly what you need in the middle of the day. There is something freeing about Aczel’s approach to comedy, and when combined with his mastery of deadpan, it makes for a damn good time. Spectacle and high stakes are wonderful things, but sometimes all you need is a man slowly talking about nothing at all.

nae bad_blue

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Jacob Close  (Seen 7 August)

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Lucille and Cecilia (Assembly Powder Room, Aug 2-24, 13:25: 1hr)

“A successful hour of charming jokes and energetic tricks.”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

Lucille and Cecilia is a show about two sea lions whose names have the word ‘seal’ in them. Though of course this joke might make an ounce more sense if they were actually seals, the charming simplicity of the gag is still a tickler. So, thankfully, is the rest of this thoroughly amusing and enjoyably bonkers hour of high-energy clowning by Chloe Darke and Susanna Scott of Bang Average Theatre. 

The show takes a playfully scattershot approach to exploring Lucille and Cecilia’s lives and personalities. They perform circus tricks, describe their deep love of fish, and debate what could possibly lie beyond their watery home. Director Steve Brownlie does well to keep the action tightly blocked and includes a well-measured array of props and alternate costumes for the sea lions to bat around for the audience and wield at each other, while Darke and Scott are both charming and affective leading mammals. The only element of the show that resembles a narrative revolves around the two sea lions’ interactions with ‘Trevor the trainer,’ the amusingly-depicted custodian in charge of cleaning and preening the animals. One hates his touch, the other finds it sensuous and exciting, making for some very funny extended sequences where the two show Trevor how they feel, set to a perfectly-chosen rendition of “Ave Maria.” (Both this choice and the use of Air’s “Sexy Boy” show that Bang Average have splendid taste for musical accompaniment.) This and other chapters in the show are performed with pleasant verve and creativity, and both Darke and Scott prove wholeheartedly that they are more than capable clown performers. 

The potential drawbacks to their hour come mainly during the somewhat overlong bouts of character comedy that mainly strike repetitive notes, and do not quite match the showmanship or cleverness of their physical gags. Most of these physical feats are not only very amusing but rather impressive, and leave one wishing Darke and Scott had included a few more of these sharply executed sequences and toned down the Laurel and Hardy slapstick a tad, as these performers could certainly show off their talent for choreography quite a lot more. Thankfully, however, enough of the comedy strikes the right tone to make Lucille and Cecilia a successful hour of charming jokes and energetic tricks that leans right into the refreshingly pure entertainment of watching two human beings put their all into acting like sea lions.

For a uniquely weird, pleasantly escapist escapade, take the splash and see this show. 

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Nathaniel Brimmer-Beller

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Guitar: Postcards from Spain: Stephen Morrison: St Andrew’s and St George’s West August 8 and 11 (60 minutes)

“He let the music speak for him, and as a teacher, he was able to establish a quiet, understated rapport entirely appropriate for the appreciative audience in front of him.”

Editorial Rating:3 Stars

A summer Fringe Thursday afternoon was deceptively sunny and warm, so I was pleased to see a good crowd in the cool of the church.

The guitar is an easy musical instrument to play badly and a fiendishly difficult one to play well.  With frets clearly marked and six strings positioned level (as opposed to arched as on the violin family) it is easy to strum, and the vast panoply of pop music is based on just three chords.  Easy, especially if a pickup is doing the amplification for you.  But when it comes to something more sophisticated, whether it be the complex rhythms of the Bossa Nova or the plaintive wail of the Flamenco, we are in different, dangerous and exposed territory.  The guitar gives off surprisingly little sound; the left hand requires the iron application of finger tips, the right the looseness of a painter’s brush yet with thumb and three fingers all operating independently. That’s why I took it up late in life partially to ward off Alzheimer’s, for it is a real brain stretcher. And it looks so easy…….

On Thursday we were in the company of one man and his guitar, an American born, Scotland domiciled since 1989 Stephen Morrison who took us through a catalogue of music that ranged from the Renaissance to the twentieth century including such greats as Fernando Sor and Joaquin Rodrigo (yes, the one who wrote that concerto) in an hour long afternoon of entertainment.  Stephen Morrison is an accomplished, modest guitarist who said not a word during his recital.  It wasn’t necessary for, of course, he let the music speak for him, and as a teacher, he was able to establish a quiet, understated rapport entirely appropriate for the appreciative audience in front of him.

Three Pavans by Luys Milan (1500-1561) played in the lutenist style (and originally written for a vihuela, a guitar like instrument of six double course strings that were apparently tuned in unison) took us back immediately to the sixteenth century, followed by Les Folies d’Espagne & Menuet Op 15a by Fernando Sor (1778-1839) albeit written over 250 years later, demonstrated again the plucked chord style of writing and playing as Sor set out his stall as the one of the great composers of classical guitar as we have come to know it.

We then firmly entered the late nineteenth century of guitar composition and heard two pieces by Francisco Tarrega (1852-1909), Danza Mora and Recuerdos de la Alhambra, interspersed with Aranjuez, ma pensée by Joaquin Rodrigo (1901-1999).  The Rodrigo was arranged by the composer in a monophonic setting with very occasional chording.  Meant to show off one of the most heartfelt melodies of all time and pleasingly familiar, it did not work, partly because of the deeply restrained, unflashy nature of the guitarist’s style. Alhambra, also deeply familiar, somehow worked better.

Centrepiece of the Recital was a break from the Spanish composers, Scottish composer Thea Musgrave’s (b. 1928) Postcards from Spain (Five Serenades).   The work, written in 1995, seeks to conjure a mood of impressionism but with the exception of the second movement Molto Espressivo came across as largely abstract in style.

Stephen Morrison concluded the recital with Sonata Op.61 by Joaquin Turina (1882-1949), a pleasant piece in three movements where the impressionistic reflections of Paris were effective, and Preludio Y Danza by Julian Orbon (1925-1991).  An Asturian who moved to Cuba and then New York this was his only composition for guitar, and like all good things, left one wishing he had written more.

So, overall our hour long recital was an interesting musical journey through the musical history of the classical guitar, amply demonstrating its potential for technique, notwithstanding its limitations in dynamics.

 

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Charles Stokes (Seen 8 August)

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THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

The Seven Second Theory (TheSpace on North Bridge : Aug 8-10, 12-17: 12:30 : 1hr)

“A highly creative and well acted piece.”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars Nae Bad 

Outside of automobile tragedies and prom night, there’s not a huge amount you can do in seven seconds. You can run until you’re nearby rather than right here, and if you’re fast you can even stretch it to just over there. You can half unbutton a coat, and, if you’re anything like me, you can get 1/75 of the way towards choosing which brand of soda to buy.

Or, if you’re rapidly leaving the breathing population, you can relive all the mistakes you’ve made. So that’s a comforting thought.

The Seven Second Theory is an interesting but fairly self-explanatory premise: a man named John Doe (Theo Antonov) is about to have his life support switched off, and goes on a journey through his own memories in the brief seven seconds before brain death. His memories include those of his best friends Aaron (Joe Davidson) the infuriatingly spelt Jenni (Megan Good), as well as the love of his life, Katherine (Sophie Hill).

The main cast are undoubtedly talented performers. Antonov makes the feat of being onstage for the show’s duration look (almost) effortless, and his machine-gun delivery adds a facet of charm and vitality to his John Doe. Good, pulling double duty as writer and actress, creates a highly empathetic and relatably charming stage presence as Jenni, layering a good heart with a layer of acid which is hard not to be charmed by. Sophie Hill, despite the occasional lull in physical engagement with the scene, does an excellent job at portraying the struggles of success, embodying the constantly-working Russel Group brainchild to a tee. My standout, however, is Davidson: constantly empathetic, always reacting in the background, and all-around a rippingly strong portrayal of a character who is stung by despair amidst joy.

Supporting characters rotated amongst a chorus (Sabrina Miller, Emma Rogerson and Charlie Graff), who were simply delightful. Despite a few quick character vignettes which, forgivably, seemed underdeveloped, they make a wonderful team. Many of the show’s best lines come from their corner of the acting ring, and their range is something to be respected.

With the above in mind, I remind you that The Seven Second Theory is a comedy. Blacker than black, but comedy nonetheless – and for the most part, the show quite handily succeeds in that regard. Most of the jokes are dropped with precise and well-rehearsed timing, with just enough punch behind them to punctuate the scene. The material isn’t particularly groundbreaking stuff as far as the general regrets of mortality are concerned, but it’s certainly enough keep you waiting for the next one liner. Antonov in particular is sharp as a pin, though every cast member shines.

As for the narrative, without giving too much away, it’s the same story as the above. The framing device is dramatically succinct, the banter and conversations sounds realistic and endearing, and each scene beat feels exactly in its place. However, don’t come in looking for surprises: much like its comedic material, the messages and narrative themes (whilst undoubtedly well executed and well conceived) remain fairly pedestrian. The Seven Second Theory has some really interesting stuff to say about the foibles of human want, but it’s nothing you wouldn’t expect to hear.

And whilst its separate components of comedy and tragedy work well enough on their own, The Seven Second Theory seems to have real difficulty in the switch-between. In trying to cram so many different emotional beats into what is a fairly modest runtime, what emerges is a kind of tonal soup. There is no spared moment to settle into the despair, to come down from the laughs. This is a show that would greatly benefit from slowing itself down, and learning not to fear silence.

The great tragedy of these tonal problems is that, coupled with an unfortunate case of “shouting means drama” syndrome, when emotional pay-off arrives it can come off as mawkish or forced. As a production that relies so much on the internal lives of its main characters, this seriously undercuts the comedy’s dramatic counterweight.

To end positively, though, a place where The Seven Second Theory shines (literally) is in its stage design. I am enamoured with it: dramatic, effective and imaginative. The use of lanterns both as a light source and guiding prop is inspired, and goes a long way in giving the minimalist set design a real feeling of boundary and weight. Their use and presentation in the show elevates the sense of magical-realism which is always gnawing at the sides of the narrative, and lends it an appropriately dream-like atmosphere.

The Seven Second Theory is a highly creative and well acted piece, held back by elements of its direction and themes. For better and for worse, it’s a show that leaves you wanting more. Is it worth your time? Entirely, but it won’t change your life. The process of staging new writing is constantly transformative, and this is no exception – with revisions, Megan Good’s work could be something truly special.

nae bad_blue

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Jacob Close (Seen 6 August)

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Ian Smith: Half-Life (Underbelly Bristo Square : Aug 4-11, 13-25 : 17:15 : 1hr)

“Punchy and delightful.”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars Nae Bad

As far as conversation starters go, Chernobyl isn’t exactly a trip down gumdrop lane. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot to talk about, but generally speaking you’re not gonna squeeze a lot of laughs out of decay rates and radiation sickness. There are, of course, exceptions which prove rules like that – and Ian Smith is one of them.

As with any stand-up, we start with what the audience first sees: the persona. Smith’s stage manner is at once very familiar, yet just odd and unexpected enough to differentiate him from the droves of high-energy, earnest comedians who crowd the clubs each Fringe. There is a real genuineness to Smith’s performance -whilst completely unafraid to throw himself into whatever the set demands, there is nevertheless a vulnerability to his delivery. A subtle-but-not-unwelcome shakiness as he dismounts a punchline, as if he can’t believe he’s doing stand up. It goes a long way to closing the gap between performer and audience, though in Underbelly’s “intimate” Buttercup venue, this gap is certainly more metaphorical than physical.

The set itself? Comedy uranium. If you thought the effects of radiation were unpredictable, Smith has something coming for you: it’s functionally impossible to tell exactly what the slant of the next joke will be, or where a setup is going to lead. You can try and guess what’s coming before wit hits the lips – but prepare thoroughly for disappointment.

It’s clear from the outset that Smith thrives in the limelight, his best material comes when the pressure’s off: skated in at the end of another joke, or a quick aside away from the mic. There’s an insistent wit bubbling under the lid of Half-Life, and adds an almost mischievous edge to a set whose main quality is sheer affability. It’s a quixotic, apolitical journey through the trials and tribulations of a man who, ultimately, just wants to get through to the other end with all his limbs attached. In a post-Carlin, post-Brexit comedy landscape, that’s rarer than might be hoped.

Watching Ian Smith onstage is like watching a man being interrupted by himself, and it’s where he’s strongest. When he’s pulling suddenly off the expected course, the exits are exhilarating. However, that also plays in the other direction: when a joke outstays its welcome, the performance really feels the drag. Smith sometimes seems hesitant to take his laughs and run, and that focus on bleeding every possible laugh has a palpable effect on his flow. Though consistently high energy, Half-Life wasn’t consistently high confidence, and that’s a genuine shame: his material is punchy and delightful, and far more endearing than even Smith himself seems to believe.

Even the use of powerpoint, an oft-loathed enemy of mine, was integrated with consistent quirk and surprising seamlessness. The reality created by Half-Life – full of pigeons doing weird things and OAP scrabble tournaments – is strongly cohesive and only extended by Smith’s clever use of tech. In all, it creates the sense of a complete show: the quintessential Fringe experience of disappearing into some alternate world for an hour, and emerging Alice-esque after what seems moments. Nothing which is not purposefully highlighted becomes visible, and it’s that kind of production sleight-of-hand which marks a certain amount of care behind the scenes.

The bottom line? Ian Smith is an archetypical Fringe performer with an atypical wit, and well worth your time. It might be named after a meltdown, but Half-Life glows.

nae bad_blue

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Jacob Close (Seen 5 August)

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One Duck Down (Pleasance Courtyard : Aug 5-19, 21-26 : 10:30 : 1hr)

“A magical, wholesome family show.”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars: Outstanding

It is a not-generally-acknowledged truth that toddlers are jolly good at wrestling. You wouldn’t think, watching them sit shoving Pom Bears into their gob that – at any moment – they can turn into a match for Hulk Hogan.

Each has their own technique. Some favour ‘’The Mummy’’ were they tense every muscle in their body and go completely rigid. Others favour the opposite, and manage somehow to loosen every joint in their body making them impossible to carry. This is the jellyfish. My youngest, whilst not averse to either of these generally favours two similar techniques: either the octopus which sees her grappling around your limbs as you try to manhandle her into a buggy or Ikea high chair; or its close cousin the ‘’cat going to vets’ where she scraps like billy-o and grabs hold of nearby objects with a death grip.

A nightmare of every parent is having to fight any of the above in public. None of us come away from public wrangling looking like parent of the year. Most of us are just desperately trying not to swear.

I was worried about all this because I took my youngest to one of her first shows this morning. She’d been to stuff in previous years but she had – happily for the Marrs wallet – been a ‘’babe in arms’’. The problem with any show is that you just don’t know how they will react to being in a very different environment for an hour. So it was with a sense of trepidation I took my seat at One Duck Down. She looked at me. I looked at her. She promised to be a good girl. I handed over a packet of gingerbread men.

Happily the cast took any lingering worries away. One Duck Down had both of my youngsters entranced from the first moment. The story is one of the oldest in town brought bang up to date: a young man from a small-town fancies a woman who is a wrong ‘un. She sets him a series of challenges to win her heart from making seagulls sing the national anthem through to counting pebbles on a beach. Eventually she sets him the challenge which is the show: find me the 7,000 rubber ducks that have escaped from a shipping container and my heart is yours. Anyone who has seen Blue Planet will know that 7,000 rubber ducks actually did plop into the ocean a number of years ago, and have helped us understand the ocean currents as we see them wash up now and again.

The hero of the piece is the highly likeable Billy, who sets off in a bathtub to track the ducks down. As he does so he meets a series of colourful creatures – some seagulls who are besotted with an albatross who only has eyes for himself; a polar bear who loves rock and roll; some smelly crabs and some pirates in L-plates. He slowly but surely accumulates all but one.

The team behind the show manage manage to make it small-p political without becoming a party political broadcast: balancing important messages (the effects of global warming; plastic pollution; and what we can all do to make things better) with a fun story that the children enjoyed.

There was real cleverness here. Double-entendres, clever word-play, catchy (well-sung!) songs throughout and fun, well-crafted characters. Not many shows will have a bearded lady, a huge blue whale made out of plastic bags (a real highlight) and a sword fight on a carousel. More probably ought to! The cast put in a real shift changing role after role after role.

I enjoyed it all and not just because there were enough jokes pitched above the eyelines of the children to keep the adults amused.

I usually bemoan children’s shows being an hour as most of them could be a little tighter. A 50 minute show would probably lead to fewer casts having to battle with a kid having a meltdown. One Duck Down managed to keep most of the children’s attention for that time – no mean feat. My two were talking about it hours later. Both were bopping away to the songs, clapping at all the right points and enjoyed rocking along to Scozzie the Polar Bear.

Songs, clowning, puppetry and a lot of fun that keeps your kids spellbound for an hour. All in all, a real winner and a magical, wholesome family show.

outstanding

StarStarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Rob Marrs (Seen 5 August)

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Splash Test Dummies (Underbelly Circus Hub on the Meadows : Aug 3-11, 13-18, 20-24: 13:00 : 1hr)

“You won’t see a funnier, more joyous, more riotous, or more uplifting show this Fringe.”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars: Outstanding

Reams of mum-blogs (dad-blogs too, but the mums are winning in terms of overwhelming numbers) will give chapter and verse on how parenthood changes you. Parenthood has certainly changed how I approach the Fringe. In the old days, I actively looked forward to the 5am finishes in clubs. Now I mostly worry whether or not the fireworks will wake the kids.

It also changes how you consume the Fringe. Gone, largely, are the late night comics. The earnest, right-on types making other earnest, right-on types laugh are a thing of the past (no great shame). The late night smut merchants are done too. I don’t care what anyone says: if you don’t laugh at rude songs you are doing life wrong.

But whilst some of the Festival no longer is for you, a whole new side opens up. So I took my nephew (9) and my eldest daughter (5) along to the Splash Test Dummies. I will confess that we did so because my daughter liked their poster.

What a choice. I may start getting her to pick my shows purely on this basis. Splash Test Dummies was quite brilliant. It was everything a good Festival show should be. It had a bit of everything: acrobatics, unicycles, Cirque du Soleil-style gymnastics, running gags, good ol’ fashioned clowning, magic, puppetry, and slapstick galore. I laughed until I was hoarse. My nephew at numerous points said he was ”dying with laughter”. I may as well have not bothered getting my daughter a seat as she spent much of it standing in front of it clapping or laughing with glee.

The actors don’t so much breach the fourth wall but obliterate it. At one point, in a hilarious moment based around the Baywatch theme song, one of the three actors climbed through the crowd, stood on my daughter’s chair and bounced up and down. Later a man nearby had a (very sweaty) Dummy on his lap being hugged.

The ‘Rubber Duckie’ song was glorious as was the sketch with ping pong balls. A relatively simple magic trick taken to a whole new level. It may have been puerile but that’s the whole dang point. I laughed like a drain, as did my young duo.

There are water pistols, noodles, skeleton fights, skipping on unicycles and bubbles pumping out over you. The Dummies fire ping pong balls at you. It is an assault on your senses from before you even enter the tent.

All of this sounds easy but being this funny, this physical under lights for an hour is hard yakka in anyone’s money. More than that it isn’t easy. It is hard and the three Dummies clearly had bucketloads of talent and skill.

The three actors may look like they are clowning around but they do some seriously difficult stuff. Synchronised swimming on unicycles took the breath away as did some work with large metal rings. To make it all look so effortless is quite a skill. To do it and infuse it with comedy… well, it deserves the applause it got.

Apparently in reviews you should always give something critical lest readers think you are some professional fluffer or on the payroll. My one minor quibble – and this is true of almost every kid’s show – is that anything marketed for 5+ probably would be super if it were 45 minutes/50 minutes rather than an hour. I’m not sure what could be cut down or cut out but a few kids did start getting a little restless. Mine didn’t but I did notice a few around me beginning to turn. That though is universal and shouldn’t be held against the three magnificent Dummies: as I looked around at the end, the audience was grinning. The sort of grinning we don’t have enough of in life.

The Dummies have thought hard about how to entertain us and, importantly, our children. Even more than that, they delivered relentlessly. You won’t see a funnier, more joyous, more riotous, or more uplifting show this Fringe. My daughter spent the rest of the day pretending to be a Splash Test Dummy. If you’ve got kids, go. If you haven’t, borrow one from a friend. If you can’t do that, go along yourself. You’ll have a ball. I did as did my youngsters.

outstanding

StarStarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Rob Marrs (Seen 3 August)

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Chris Washington: Raconteur (Baby Grand, Pleasance : Aug 5-25 : 20:15 : 1hr)

“His delivery is absolutely superb.”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars : Nae Bad

It was a big weekend in Wigan. The local football club had run a competition to design a new mascot. The winning entry was the glorious: Crusty the Pie. Better still, over 50% of the entrants suggested that the new mascot be a pie.

If you have a soul, at this point in reading the review you will be warming to Wigan. Perhaps even thinking of a summer holiday there. Who wouldn’t want to spend a week or so in a place so devout in its worship of pies?

Chris Washington is from Wigan. But he isn’t just from Wigan: he clearly loves and is of the place. It is hard to dislike him. You immediately warm to him – and to warm to him is to warm to the pie capital of the world.

Before the show starts there is a board on the stage which says something along the lines of “if Washington took more risks he would be on his way to the big time”. Later, it is replaced with “#leastriskycomicinthebiz”.

As he puts it, and having recently learned what the word means, he is a raconteur. His show is him telling a series of stories about things that have happened to him over the last year: getting engaged, going to Australia and the culture shock he experienced; his favourite kebab house getting a zero rating for hygiene; his fondness for garden centres and late night petrol stations.

To say he was laid back would be an understatement. He rightly – in my view – mocks other comics who take themselves two seriously pointing out that he has three GCSE’s one of which is in Food Technology. He asks why would anyone want to know his thoughts on Brexit? Why would anyone want any stand-up comic’s view on Brexit? Well quite so. We wouldn’t ask Mark Carney to crack gags so I’m never really sure why comedians feel the need to rant about political issues (especially if everyone in the crowd agrees with them anyway). He then delivers probably the best Brexit joke of the Fringe almost as a throw-away line.

Washington exudes charm. He may lack ambition, but this is a man who used to be a postman. He knows treading the boards is better than tramping the streets. He knows about life, and that there are more difficult things to do than telling jokes. He is acutely aware what a privilege it is to go round the world telling jokes and stories and have the audience laughing along. This is a man who loves his job. It is difficult to be so casual, almost conversational with an audience, but the best comics can do just that – and Washington does so with ease.

There were stronger sections than others. I found an extended tale about go-karting perhaps a little longer than it needed to be but his jokes about mindfulness made me laugh and wince in equal measure. His adventures in Australia were very funny. Rarely has a man cared so deeply about his local kebab shop but all of this – grounded in the local, the mundane – was where he really shone.

His riffing at the start of the show off the audience was top-notch and he clearly has the brain and wit to do more of that if he wished. His gentle mocking of a late comer was done with care and warmth rather than than the sneer and snort elsewhere.

It is easy to see a Northern comic who tells stories of every day life and think of Peter Kay. Washington veers away from ‘remember when’ but isn’t a million miles away from Kay. His jokes about his dad’s jet lag had me guffawing mightily as did his trip to a wedding fare. His accidental views on cyclists brought proper belly laughs from most in the room. An insight into everyday life is never a bad thing.

With a bit of tightening this show could easily go from a 4 to a 5. His delivery is absolutely superb, for the most part. At other points some of the stories ramble or don’t quite hit how he’d like to. I don’t think he needs to be edgier or riskier. He may need to be a little more brutal with what he cuts and what he keeps but that is minor stuff. He even inspired me to get a kebab on the way home.

nae bad_blue

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Rob Marrs  (Seen 3 August)

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